Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fits: Russian Forwards

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The 2022 NHL Draft is fast approaching. The Tampa Bay Lightning, preparing to play a pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers, elected to keep their first-round draft selection for the first time in what seems like forever. So, while they likely aren’t focusing too much on the draft, Last Word will look at some Lightning draft prototypes in a new series. 

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fits: Russian Forwards

The Lightning, since 2010 when Julien BriseBois became an assistant general manager and Al Murray joined the organization, have drafted six forwards from the Russian leagues. That’s the fourth-most of all the leagues the Lightning have drafted from. The average size of these Russian players are 6’0” and 185 pounds. The tallest player selected from the Russian leagues was Mikhail Shalagin at 6’4” and the shortest was tied between Nikita Kucherov and Nikita Gusev at 5’10.5”. 

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Other averages used included stats from all three Russian leagues and U18 World Juniors performances. The averages for the MHL include roughly 97 games played pre-draft, with 43 goals, 46 assists and 89 points. In the KHL, those averages were 14 games played, with one goal, and one assist for two points. Finally, the VHL stats were eight games played, one goal, one assist and two points. 

Russian Draftees Performances

With the MHL featuring prominently, we will focus on that league. Shalagin set the most games played at this level for Tampa prospects with 140 games, while the lowest total of games was set by Alexei Lipanov at 43. As for goals, Shalagin has the highest with 84 and Lipanov had the lowest with three. Looking at assists, Gusev had the most with 113, while Lipanov had the least with eight. Finally, for points, Gusev had the highest with 182, while Lipanov had the least with 11. (Also used to find prototypes is per game MHL stats and U18 World Juniors performance). 

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fit #1: Danila Yurov, Right Wing, Stalnye Lisy Magnitogorsk

Yurov is the best fit when looking at MHL stats only, since that league held the most importance to previously drafted Lightning prospects from Russia. When taking into account all three leagues, he falls to second. More on that later. Yurov has been ranked anywhere from fifth (McKeen’s Hockey) and 24th (Smaht Scouting), placing him outside the Lightning range. However, he makes this list due to the circumstances in Russia and the potential hesitancy to draft Russian players, which could lead to Yurov falling outside his set range. Time will tell. 

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If drafted by Tampa Bay, Yurov would not set a new high at the MHL level, but would set a new precedent amongst Lightning Russian prospects in KHL games played. At the MHL level, he would be over the Lightning average in height (6’1”), goals per game, assists per game, and points per game. He would also be above average in World Juniors games played, goals, assists and points. Yurov is below average in weight (179), MHL games played, goals, assists, and points. He would not set any new lows, either. 

What Does Yurov Bring To The Table?

Yurov is such a talented player. Offensively, he can play as both a playmaker and as a shooter. If you want him to slow the game down and focus on possession, he can do that. If you want him to turn the dial up and set up teammates in high-danger areas, he can do that. Not only that, if you want him to take charge as the shooter on his line, he possesses a solid shot, paired with excellent off-puck movement and IQ to get to high-danger areas and finish off passes sent his way. 

Yurov did this in the MHL, however, which does not exactly possess the best defensive competition. That said, he needs time to fine tune some areas of his game, including often trying to do too much on his own and skating into tight spots, at higher levels. There are few doubts that he can translate those high end skills, however. As for other areas of his game, Yurov may be one of the best transitional players in the entire draft class, albeit again, at the MHL level. Defensively, Yurov’s hockey IQ is shown. He has excellent defensive positioning, and is a catalyst for his team clearing the zone with possession. However, he has consistency issues and, at times, cheats up the ice for offence. He looks like a top-six forward, if all things go well for his development.    

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fit #2: Dmitri Buchelnikov, Right Wing, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg

The second-best fit, looking at MHL stats alone, is Buchelnikov. He is the only other positive fit when looking at MHL stats. He has been ranked by two sites, FCHockey (69th) and Draft Prospects Hockey (80th). However, he was not ranked by either one of the most prominent draft analysts in Bob McKenzie or Craig Button. He could be a late round flier. Buchelnikov went undrafted in 2021. 

If drafted by Tampa Bay, would not set any new highs, but he is above average in MHL games played, goals, assists, points, goals per game, assists per game, and points per game, as well as World Juniors games played. Buchelnikov finished below average in World Juniors goals, assists and points. He would also set new lows for Tampa thanks to his height (5’10”) and weight (168). Buchelnikov did not play in the VHL or KHL, which hurt his overall fit score. 

What Does Buchelnikov Bring To The Table?

Buchelnikov has a lethal shot. The accuracy he possesses is excellent, and paired with the decent power he can put on them as well, he is a threat. Additionally, he can shoot off any platform, and he can change the angle of his shot very well. Also within his arsenal is his transitional ability up the ice. He generates an excellent amount of zone entry rush chances, which is an extremely important trait to have for a young player. Add to that his strong and speedy skating ability and his excellent hands and confidence, and you have a player who should have been given a chance at a higher level of hockey. 

But, of course, there is a reason he isn’t a top-rated prospect. His playmaking is iffy and inconsistent. Buchelnikov can, at times, do a little too much on his own and turn the puck over more than many Russian coaches want to see. Additionally, Buchelnikov can get pushed off the puck too easily and he is hesitant to get involved in dirty areas of the ice because of his lack of size and strength. Not to mention, his defensive game leaves a lot to be desired. That said, he could be a boom-or-bust, late round shot in the dark. Remember, the Lightning were not afraid to pull the trigger on Nikita Gusev, who, though it wasn’t totally successful, etched out a few positive NHL seasons. 

Tampa Bay Lightning Draft Fit #3: Ivan Miroshnichenko, Left Wing, Omskie Krylia

Miroshnichenko had a very unfortunate year this season. Having been considered widely as a top-10 candidate, “Miro” was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in March. Unfortunately, this has thrown a wrench in his outlook, as he missed most of this year and could miss next season as well. The one big positive is that it was diagnosed early on and his recovery has been very positive since. Despite this, he has graded out as the top all-around draft fit for the Lightning. Obviously, his recovery is far more important than anything regarding his potential of being drafted by any team, but he was the top fit, and his insane skill level deserves recognition. 

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With the diagnoses, many writers including this one and Last Word’s own Ben Kerr, decided not to rank Miroshnichenko this season. Kerr had him as an honorable mention in his yearly ranking breakdowns. Other sites have him ranked between sixth (Bob McKenzie) and 34th (Dobber Prospects) making him a realistic option for Tampa. If drafted by the Lightning, he would set new highs in VHL games played, goals, assists, points, goals per game, and points per game. He was above average in height (6’1”), VHL assists per game, World Juniors games played, goals and points, and MHL assists per game. He would be below average in weight (185), all KHL stats, World Junior assists, and MHL goals, assists, points, goals per game, and assists per game. Finally, he would set a new low in MHL games played. 

What Does Miroshnichenko Bring To The Table?

Miroshnichenko is such a fun player to watch. Similar to Yurov, he can beat a team in literally any way you could ask him to. His vision and passing ability is solid, and he loves getting the puck to high-danger. But his shot is even better. Miroshnichenko can shoot from anywhere and it can be off his forehand or backhand. It can also be via a wrist shot, snap shot, slap shot or one-timer. Not to mention, his stickhandling is high end. Even though he doesn’t use his hands a whole lot, he can power through defenders or dice them up. That makes him extremely difficult to defend. Pair all of that with a really strong skating ability, and you have a lethal offensive weapon. He already has experience against men, albeit at the VHL level. 

Defensively, however, Miroshnichenko does need some work. Like with most Russian prospects, he is inconsistent in his own end and, at times, looks very disengaged. Additionally, he cheats up ice for offence. However, similar to Yurov, he knows where to be when he is engaged. Miro can generate turnovers as well as be somewhat reliable. He has the fundamentals down, and an NHL coach can unlock a better 200-foot game, for sure. He is another guy that looks like a future top-six player, and hopefully his recovery continues to go well.

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